The term ‘Smart City’ sounds like something plucked straight out of science fiction. But far from being a concept of the distant future, smart cities already exist today. In fact, Songdo, a newly developed city in South Korea was titled ‘the world’s first smart city’ as far back as 2014. So what are the defining features of a Smart City and how do they benefit the urban population?
Broadly speaking, we can define Smart City as one that uses information and communication technologies to improve several aspects of life – the provision of clean energy, modern transportation systems and efficient public services that improve the safety and quality of life for all inhabitants. Let’s consider some real-life examples that are happening around the world today.
Getting Smart about Safety
When talking about safety it’s natural to think about crime prevention, and there are many examples of smart technology being used to deter crime. Take Project Green Light in Detroit, USA, for example. This partnership between the Detroit PD and local gas station owners used real-time video surveillance, stored centrally in the cloud, to enable police to spot and respond to crimes more quickly. The project was a resounding success, reducing incidents of violent crime by as much as 48%.
However, lowering crime is only one component of a safer city, and smart technology can be used in other areas too. For example, smart street lighting has been employed in many cities across the world, providing benefits that go beyond having better-lit streets. In Glasgow in the UK, intelligent street lights incorporate sensors that are able to detect noise and monitor footfall, potentially spotting the early signs of street disturbances. This data is linked back to an operations control center and can be combined with IP cameras to help produce a more efficient police response.
Another great example is Taipei’s i4Blind app which helps the visually impaired to get around Taiwan’s capital. Location beacons track users as they travel around the city, offering alerts if there are apparent dangers in the vicinity, or information to help identify shops and restaurants – it can even read out menu items with prices and descriptions of the ingredients used.
Making Mature Cities Smarter
For the development of Smart Cities to have a truly global impact, it’s crucial that new technology is integrated in older infrastructures, not only woven into the fabric of newly constructed urban landscapes. Many of our clients around the world are finding that despite being quite a challenge to update existing systems to accommodate new ideas and technologies, it can be done. One area where we are gaining significant experience is with inner-city transportation.
Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) such as the VIA Mobile360 ADAS can be added to existing bus fleets to provide benefits such as blind-spot detection and full 360-degree vehicle monitoring, helping to safeguard pedestrians and other road users. This technology can also be combined with internal surveillance cameras to deter crime and provide evidence when an incident occurs. Future Edge AI innovations will offer the potential to detect potential medical emergencies, prevent fare evasion, and even spot security risks such as suspect packages.
Technology can also benefit the wider transport network too. For example, by embedding networked sensors into city streets, traffic control systems can optimize vehicle journey times and reduce pollution. A project in July 2018 saw 100 sensors fixed to lamp posts networked with two specially-modified Google Street View cars that tracked pollution levels as they drove the streets of London, UK. The final aim was to generate hyperlocal data to help feed policy responses and allow operators to route traffic through different parts of the city, allowing emissions to dissipate more evenly.
Reducing traffic and particulate pollution with improved traffic safety schemes are particularly popular areas of smart city development. This is not only due to the direct safety and health benefits they provide, but also due to tightening pollution regulations in Europe and elsewhere, a major driver for infrastructure renewal as governments around the world address the issue of global warming.
Making All Cities Smart
While modern cities such as Songdo have smart safety technology integrated into the very fabric of their being, it’s encouraging to see historic cities such as London and Glasgow are also integrating new technologies to improve the lives of citizens. The city you live in may not begin to resemble a Star Trek-like Sci-Fi utopia any time soon, but sophisticated technologies can still be used to upgrade your city into a Smart City.